Digital, and the tech that powers it, is only meaningful to anyone in relation to how useful it is as a vehicle for communication, storytelling, and connection.
It’s possible for a website that’s not aesthetically pleasing to still be a good website, if it manages to provide meaningful experiences to its users through valuable communication.
The same is not true in reverse: it is not possible for a strikingly beautiful website to be of any real value to anyone if its content (the bit that does the communicating) ultimately fails to create meaning and value for its users.
Gumtree and MoneySavingExpert.com are hardly works of web design art. Yet the utility and value of the content is so undeniably obvious (and most importantly, findable and usable), it’s enough to carry the experience.
The web was conceived as a hyper-useful, functional network of information—designed for us to learn something, to inspire a greater understanding of ourselves and the world in which we inhabit.
If our little corner of this hyper-connected web of information happens to be presented in a beautiful way, then all the better for it. But if there’s a total absence of meaningful information present, the fact that it looks quite nice, that it’s mobile-responsive, that it’s personalised even, has paper-thin standalone value. Without quality content, all you’ve got is a good-looking, mobile-responsive site that serves up unhelpful annoyance to precisely the people that matter most to you.
It’s often less overwhelming to focus on the shininess of surface-level design, than it is to concentrate on the messiness of content: what value it needs to add, what stories it needs to tell, what experiences it needs to provide.
But producing something valuable has never been the easy option. If the repeated starting point to your conversation is, “the website needs a redesign”, you might be asking the wrong (and easier, less valuable) question.
The more valuable question to ask is probably: what actually needs redesigning the most (and in which order), the website or our content? Our technology or our communication?